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The Fall Of Fortresses

July 2024
1min read

by Elmer Bendiner
G. P. Putnam’s Sons
8 pages of photographs
258 pages, $11.95

It was a tidy plan that the beat-Germany-with-air-power contingent had in World War II: Send heavy bombers deep into enemy territory to wipe out the enemy’s war-making ability. But “we aircrews would not match their vision of neat and precise destruction,” Elmer Bendiner, who navigated a B-17, writes. “We missed too often, and too many of us died. We were inept and perishable.”

Two of Bendiner’s twenty-five missions were directed at the ball-bearing factories of Schweinfurt. These strikes might have hurt the Germans had the B-17 losses not been so massive that the planners dared not inflame public opinion by immediately repeating the raids. Survival in the heavy bombers was a matter of time and luck, as Bendiner makes clear. Once his flying fortress plunged into the English Channel, and the crew was rescued; and once eleven shells penetrated the gas tank but inexplicably failed to blow up the plane. When the shells were examined back in England, they were found to be empty, except for one which held a rolled slip of paper, on which was written in Czech, “This is all we can do for you now.”

This small, wise book, written with elegant simplicity, makes the reader see, smell, and feel the airman’s war.

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